This weekend, Manx BirdLife recorded 131 dead and dying birds on the charity's flagship reserve at the Point of Ayre. Manx BirdLife Managing Director, Neil Morris, picks up the story:
'Yesterday (31st October 2022), I undertook a routine check of our nature reserve at the Point of Ayre.
My colleague, David Andrews, Site Manager for the reserve, had been noting steadily increasing numbers of dead feral Greylag Geese during the past week whilst supervising ecological landscaping works onsite. Hence as part of my routine Sunday visit, I had decided to attempt a full count of the dead birds in order to gauge the scale of the problem.
I was somewhat staggered to count 131 dead and dying birds, all of which were 'Greylags' except for one dead adult Great Black-backed Gull and one dead first-winter Herring Gull.
Most of the birds were already dead, but about one in five were moribund. Clearly distressed, these dying birds were in a state of semi-torpor showing symptoms such as rolling their head and neck from side-to-side over their backs, shivering, staggering about and simply being too weak to walk or fly.
While it would be wrong to jump too quickly to conclusions, the likely culprit is bird flu. We are awaiting test results from the Department for Environment, Food and Agriculture (DEFA) on one or two dead birds collected last week.
Because of the scale of the die-off, we have taken the decision to close the reserve to all visitors with immediate effect. Whilst not yet open for public visiting, we have been escorting groups by prior arrangement and had hoped to announce some new dates on which people could join our team for supervised tours to see the spectacle of wintering flocks of wildfowl.'
About Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) aka 'bird flu'
Bird flu is a viral disease affecting the respiratory tract. It has affected wild bird populations around the world for many years. On just a few rare occasions, it has been contracted by people working in close proximity with large numbers of domestic birds.
The current widespread strain, H5N1, is considered one of the most pathogenic and is highly contagious among wild and domestic bird populations.
H5N1 was first confirmed on the Island in captive birds in January 2022, with the first positive test among wild birds being confirmed in February 2022. More recently, a dead Rook near Bride tested positive as did two dead gulls found on Fleshwick beach. Other species known to have died on the Island from this latest outbreak include Buzzard, Peregrine, Gannet and Greylag Geese.
Around the world, bird flu has been found in more than 100 bird species. H5N1 has already been found in more than 60 bird species as well as other animals, even Porpoises.
Water birds such as ducks, geese and gulls are particularly susceptible, as are domestic birds.
As at the start of November 2022, there are no avian influenza restrictions zones in place on the Isle of Man.
The risk to human health is considered to be very low.
DEFA strongly advises bird keepers to remain vigilant by practicing good biosecurity and reducing any contact that wild birds have with kept birds. If you are concerned your kept birds have avian influenza, you should contact the Animal Health Team (see details below).
Do not touch or pick up any visibly sick birds that you find. This is to protect you, any birds you keep and to lessen the risk of onward spread of the virus.
If you find a dead single, small garden or wild bird then you do not need to contact DEFA. You should leave it alone, or follow the guidelines for disposal (see details below).
However, if you find:
- Two or more large waterfowl (such as swans or geese) together and freshly dead; or,
- Six or more smaller birds together and all freshly dead;
you should report these to the Animal Health Team – Regulation Directorate, DEFA on 01624 685844 or by email email@example.com.
For up-to-date information on bird flu in the Isle of Man, please visit DEFA's Avian Influenza information page.